Learning to See & Seeing to Learn #Coaching #DBL

My oldest son, PJ, is seven. He loves art, and he sees himself as an artist. According to Dan Pink, in A Whole New Mind, many children grow out of identifying themselves as artists. I hope and pray that PJ always sees himself as an artist. I believe that visual communication and design will only increase in importance as PJ grows up and inherits this world. No matter what he becomes professionally, I believe design and visual communication will be critical as our professional communities address the issues and problems of society.

I possess great hope that PJ will continue to identify as an artist. I possess this hope because PJ has a coach, also named PJ (so I will call her “PJ2”). My son PJ asked if he could take art lessons this year. Thanks to my wife and a good colleague, we were able to find an art teacher – PJ2. PJ2 comes to our home on Tuesdays, and she coaches my son PJ in “learning to see and seeing to learn.” I love this! She is helping him understand the shapes and forms of things. She helped him see the circles, ovals, rectangles, and frowny faces in the frog that my son PJ drew at his first lesson. My son PJ knows circles and rectangles, so he believes that he can do this drawing thing. He is learning to draw what he sees by looking at the whole, breaking it down into parts, and reproducing a creative whole of his own.

At his second lesson, PJ drew this bear and fish. My wife and I are trying hard to follow Carol Dweck’s advice in Mindset and praise the specific, repeatable behaviors that are helping PJ enact his seeing, drawing, and learning. We are trying hard not to say things like, “Wow, you are such a great artist.” It’s really hard not to say such things. I mean look at what he is drawing! A proud dad, I am.

But, I think I am even more proud as an educator than I am as a dad. We all have this capacity within us. We may not all have the interest or passion that lasts, but I believe we all have the capacity. PJ2 is “simply” teaching my son PJ to see what is in front of him. She is coaching him to transform a piece of blank paper into something from the future – his drawing. She is drawing out of him what is already there. She is coaching him to see this capacity in himself. She is practicing educare – to draw forth what lies within. She is coaching him in design thinking.

Recently, a colleague of mine who lives and educates in New York sent me this “Personal Best” article by Atul Gawande from The New Yorker. I am meandering through the article because it is so rich and full of wisdom about COACHING and the teaching profession – all professions, really. I am fascinated that she sent me this article at this moment in time. She and I do not converse or exchange messages at any regularity. But, at the time in which my son PJ is receiving coaching in art, JB sends me this article about coaching and the critical need for more coaching across the board.

I hope you will make time to read the article from The New Yorker, and I hope to write more about learning to see and seeing to learn. For now, I am merely recording some emerging thinking at the crossroads of an article and my son’s personal experience.

Coaching seems the key ingredient. In the article, Gawande describes coaching as “outside eyes and ears.” These coaching insights help us to see the future of what we can do and become. We need coaches. We need to be coaches. Coaches may be the central ingredient to schools making the transformation that faces us now in this 21st century. Coaching can help us see what is possible. Coaches can guide our processes of learning to see and seeing to learn. Coaching is more akin to what I hope to do next professionally.

May we all retain the childish belief that we are artists. May we all work diligently to repeat endlessly that word which Robert Fulghum described as the first real verbal magic of childhood: “LOOK!” May we lead from the future to transform blank canvas into beautiful works of art. The capacity to do so is in us all – if we will learn to see and see to learn.

Thanks to the visionaries and coaches!

Connecting JHPAC and GOOGLE Art Project

We moved into our current Junior High School building on August 3, 2005. I had been principal for two years, and I had a dream of helping establish a permanent art collection for student art when we moved into our new space. With the help of JHPAC (Junior High Permanent Art Collection) Director Mary Cobb, the art teachers, the students, and their parents, we now have over 340 pieces of student work in the collection. One of my favorite times is when Mary and I hammer nails and hang art each summer!

Now I have a new dream! I want to partner our students with GOOGLE and Amit Sood to supplement our JHPAC with this type of dynamic view and experience…

Can you imagine how cool that would be?! Our students could design and implement it…

A Big Week for Visual Arts in the Junior High

This week, two extraordinary art exhibits opened in Atlanta. Well, probably more than two opened in Atlanta, but I am particularly interested in these two:

  1. Junior High art students exhibited their creations in Broyles Art Center at The Westminster Schools. Each student who is enrolled in Junior High art selected a single piece of their work (and/or a teacher selected it) to display in the Gaines Foyer of Broyles. Here’s a short video for a visual reference…
  2. Students, from both Westminster and Lovett, ranging in age from kindergarten and pre-first, through middle school and junior high, as well as high school, witnessed special selections of their art open at the High Museum of Atlanta. The student art hung under the same museum roof as special exhibits of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Toulouse Lautrec. The turnout was superb, and I was overwhelmed with pride for the students who had created such powerful visuals for their views of the world and the ideas within their minds.

Student Art at High Museum and Broyles



For the past few days, I have been enjoying Garr Reynolds’ book Presentation Zen Design. A friend gave me the book because he knows I make many presentations and because he knows that we study and implement design in the Synergy 8 course. In short, the book is brilliant. It is one of those relatively rare reads that makes you think you have only just begun when you finish reading the last page. It satisfies while leaving one hungrier still.

Throughout the book, Reynolds makes the point of “kaizen” as continuous improvement. On page 234, he summarizes that

Kaizen is key to the steady improvement and innovation of successful companies….’Kaizen is one of those magical concepts that is at once a philosophy, a principle, a practice, and a tool.’ It’s also an approach we can learn from and apply to our own lives as we strive for continuous improvement on a personal level….Kaizen is daily, continuous, and steady – it takes the long-term view. Kaizen also requires a commitment and a strong willingness to change….The interesting thing about kaizen is that big, sudden improvements are not necessary. Instead, what is important is that you’re always looking for ideas-even the smallest ideas-that you can build on. Tiny improvements are OK as over the long term they can add up to great improvements. Each journey begins with a single step.

So, here’s to kaizen. And, on a related note, check out Garr Reynolds’ site devoted to presentation zen.
Garr Reynolds’ recent post on education and learning.